Wondering how to play all the GTA games in both release and timeline order? We’ve got you covered.

Grand Theft Auto games have been releasing since 1997, and because of this, the series can seem overwhelming to new fans. Thankfully, since all games in the franchise are relatively standalone, meaning they can be played in any order.

If you’re looking for the best way to try out the GTA series, you may want to experience the titles in release order – but it could be fun to try them chronologically instead!

Whatever your preference, we’ve got all the information you need to know:

All GTA Games in Release Order

There are a total of 12 Grand Theft Auto games and 4 expansions released to date, including the now-standalone GTA: Online as its own game.

Here’s the full list of games and their release dates, allowing you to play the GTA series in release order:

GameRelease Date
Grand Theft AutoNovember 28, 1997
GTA: London 1969 (Expansion)April 30, 1999
GTA: London 1961 (Expansion)June 1, 1999
GTA 2October 22, 1999
GTA 3October 22, 2001
GTA Vice CityOctober 27, 2002
GTA AdvanceOctober 26, 2004
GTA San AndreasOctober 26, 2004
GTA Liberty City StoriesOctober 24, 2005
GTA Vice City StoriesOctober 31, 2006
GTA 4April 29, 2008
GTA 4: The Lost and Damned (DLC)February 17, 2009
GTA Chinatown WarsMarch 17, 2009
GTA: The Ballad of Gay Tony (DLC)October 29, 2009
GTA 5September 17, 2013
GTA OnlineOctober 1, 2013 (Standalone: March 25, 2022)
GTA 62025

It’s certainly notable how many GTA games were released in October. In fact, now that it looks as though GTA 6 may not release in Q1 2025, October might just be our best guess at its release date.

As for where each title takes place on the Grand Theft Auto timeline, read on to find out!

All GTA Games in Timeline Order

The GTA series is actually split into three timelines that all exist within their own separate universes: the 2D universe, the 3D universe, and the HD universe.

The events of each universe are canonical, as confirmed by Rockstar Games, but actions taken in one universe don’t occur in the others.

For example, we know that Tommy Vercetti ended up as the kingpin of Vice City in the 3D universe, but we probably won’t see Vercetti in GTA 6 due to the upcoming game being set in the HD timeline.

The 2D Timeline

The 2D universe kicked off the GTA franchise, and while it was initially set in modern times, it quickly jumped all the way back to the 60s.

In fact, the title of the first-ever Grand Theft Auto experience, chronologically, goes to an add-on for the original GTA.

Grand Theft Auto: London 1961

In-Game Year: 1961

It’s interesting that the original Grand Theft Auto was the only game to receive additional content post-launch until GTA 4.

Grand Theft Auto London 1961

In the second expansion to the first-ever GTA, players went back in time eight years with the game acting as a prequel to the first add-on content.

Grand Theft Auto: London 1969

In-Game Year: 1969

The first Mission Pack for Grand Theft Auto gave players a whole new map to explore – London, in the year 1969.

Grand Theft Auto London 1969

Interestingly, the Special Edition of Grand Theft Auto, which contains both expansions in addition to the base game, only released in the UK. Seems appropriate, given the London setting.

Grand Theft Auto

In-Game Year: 1997

The original GTA is now over 25 years old, and it was set in 1997, the same year that it came out. This would later become a trend in the HD universe, but it wouldn’t become common for some time.

Grand Theft Auto 1 Cover

The first Grand Theft Auto was set in three cities: Liberty City, San Andreas, and Vice City. These iconic locations would go on to be massively expanded upon in subsequent releases.

Grand Theft Auto 2

In-Game Year: 1999-2013 (Unclear)

It’s actually not strictly clear when GTA 2 is set, though some fans believe that the final game in the 2D timeline takes place in 2013.

GTA 2 Cover

Several police reports on the GTA 2 website indicated that various characters who died during the events of the game were killed in 2013. However, there are in-game references to the upcoming millennium and the Y2K bug, suggesting that it could be set in 1999, the year the game released.

What’s more, Grand Theft Auto 2 features futuristic weaponry but older vehicles, suggesting that the setting was intentionally left vague.

The 3D Timeline

During the 3D timeline, Rockstar Games decided to focus primarily on games set in the 80s and 90s.

With the exception of GTA 3, which was set in its release year of 2001, all other 3D universe titles take place in the past.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories

In-Game Year: 1984

Vice City Stories was the final game in the 3D universe to be released, but chronologically, it’s the first to take place.

GTA Vice City Stories

Set two years before the events of the original Vice City game, the title follows Victor Vance, and its conclusion leads directly into the opening of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

In-Game Year: 1986

Vice City was the first GTA title to have a voiced protagonist, which made Tommy Vercetti one of the series’ most beloved characters.

GTA Vice City Tommy

Set in 1986, this was the first base game to take place in the past, and Rockstar Games chose to re-use Vice City, turning it into a stylized version of Miami.

The game’s color scheme, characters, and soundtrack, are all very 80’s, making our return to Vice City in GTA 6 a very different experience.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

In-Game Year: 1992

Despite the popularity of San Andreas, Rockstar Games didn’t choose to set another game in this fictional location until GTA 5 returned to Los Santos.

GTA San Andreas

San Andreas took players to its biggest map ever (at the time), a whopping 6-by-6-kilometre open world, and put them in control of Carl Johnson, aka CJ.

As CJ returns to San Andreas, he seeks revenge for the murder of his mother and attempts to rebuild the Grove Street gang to its former glory.

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

In-Game Year: 1998

Liberty City Stories is a direct prequel to Grand Theft Auto 3, with the city being virtually unchanged from how it looks three in-game years later.

GTA Liberty City Stories

Players take control of Antonio ‘Toni’ Cipriani, a member of the Leone Crime Family, and a central character in GTA 3’s story.

After going into hiding for four years for murdering a man under the orders of Don Salvatore Leone, Cipriani returns to Liberty City in an effort to clean up the city and secure his place in the leadership of the family.

Grand Theft Auto: Advance

In-Game Year: 2000

The only game in the 3D universe to be played from a top-down perspective, GTA: Advance is another prequel to the events of GTA 3, this time set one year prior.

GTA Advance Gameplay

Once again, Advance takes players back to Liberty City. The game was initially reported to be a port of GTA 3 for the Game Boy Advance, but eventually ended up being its own unique title.

The protagonist this time is Mike, a small-time criminal who faces off against the Uptown Yardies and Colombian Cartel in his hunt for revenge over the killing of his partner-in-crime.

Grand Theft Auto 3

In-Game Year: 2001

GTA 3 broke new ground for the franchise by being the first title to shift away from a top-down perspective. It is, therefore, the first game to release in the 3D universe, starting a fresh canon for Rockstar Games.

GTA 3 Claude

Despite this fact, GTA 3 is the last game chronologically, taking place in Liberty City after the plots of both Liberty City Stories and Advance.

It follows Claude, a silent protagonist who begins working for several crime groups in the city after being betrayed and left for dead.

The HD Timeline

So far in the HD timeline, all games have been set in the same year in which they were officially released.

The exceptions to the rule are the DLC expansions for GTA 4: The Lost and the Damned, and The Ballad of Gay Tony, which were released in 2009 but were set the year prior during the events of the base game.

Another interesting exception is GTA Online, which initially took place around the time of GTA 5’s campaign, but has steadily advanced in time over the course of the last decade of live service.

Grand Theft Auto 4

In-Game Year: 2008

GTA 4 is set in 2008, the same year the game officially released, starting a trend that has carried forward to all base game releases ever since.

The game follows protagonist Niko Bellic, who seeks to find his fortune in the land of opportunity that is Liberty City.

GTA 4 Niko Bellic

Unfortunately, Niko is quickly pulled into the criminal underworld still present in the city, despite wishing to leave his past behind.

This is also the first GTA game in which player choices matter, with consequences waiting for them behind each decision.

Grand Theft Auto 4: The Lost and the Damned

In-Game Year: 2008

The Lost and the Damned was the first DLC the Grand Theft Auto series released since the days of GTA 1’s London Mission Pack expansions.

GTA 4 The Lost and the Damned

It gives players a new playable protagonist, Johnny Klebitz, and offers a new perspective on Liberty City.

The DLC follows The Lost Motorcycle Club, and it takes place during the events of the GTA 4 main storyline.

Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony

In-Game Year: 2008

The Ballad of Gay Tony is the second DLC pack for GTA 4, this time following Luis Fernando Lopez as its protagonist.

At the very beginning of the expansion, players witness a bank heist being committed by Niko Bellic, revealing this DLC also takes place during the story of GTA 4.

Grand Theft Auto The Ballad of Gay Tony

The plot also links up in several key moments with the story of The Lost and the Damned.

As a dedicated assistant to legendary nightclub owner Tony Prince (Gay Tony), Luis tries desperately to help his boss pay off his debts, dragging himself into the criminal underworld that players are (by now) all too familiar with.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

In-Game Year: 2009

Chinatown Wars was GTA’s first game to make an appearance on the Nintendo DS, and it would later release on the PlayStation Portal and mobile app stores.

Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars

The game follows Huang Lee, the son of a recently murdered Triad boss,, as he arrives in Liberty City to bring the heirloom sword Yu Jian to his uncle, the family’s new patriarch.

After surviving an assassination attempt wherein the sword was stolen, Lee must track down Yu Jian and discover the truth of what’s going on with the Liberty City Triads for himself.

Grand Theft Auto Online

In-Game Year: 2013

GTA Online is a rather unique entry on this list, because although it initially took place in 2013 – a few months prior to the events of GTA 5 – its storyline now appears to be set in the present day.

This multiplayer title first launched as GTA 5’s online component but has since become a completely standalone title.

GTA Online characters with two cars

And thanks to over a decade of live service content updates, the story has progressed far past GTA 5’s own plot, now taking place in more modern times.

This is the first Grand Theft Auto game to let players fully customize their playable character. Throughout missions, GTA Online users will come into contact with many characters from the series’ past, eventually even working with GTA 5 protagonist Franklin Clinton.

Grand Theft Auto 5

In-Game Year: 2013

In a series first, Grand Theft Auto 5 upped the ante by offering three playable characters that players could switch between at will.

GTA 5 Michael Franklin Trevor Art

The story follows Michael, Franklin, and Trevor in 2013, as the three criminals come together to pull off a series of heists.

However, the opening sequence of the game, which sees Michael fake his own death to escape his life of crime, actually takes place in 2004.

Grand Theft Auto 6

In-Game Year: 2025?

In our analysis of what we’ve seen so far, we believe that GTA 6 will most likely be set in 2025. This would follow the ongoing trend of titles being set in their release year, but it’s yet to be confirmed by Rockstar Games.

GTA 6 Vice City Beach

Should GTA 6 be delayed or have already been delayed, it’s possible that the game will be set in a different year from the one it eventually releases in.

However, the game’s first trailer is clearly set in the modern day, with plenty of references to both pop culture and social media.

Undoubtedly, it will be the latest GTA game in the timeline – at least until GTA Online catches up or GTA 7 arrives.

author
Managing Editor
With almost a decade of experience in video game journalism, Max is a well-versed writer from Manchester, United Kingdom. His expertise shines in his comprehensive coverage of GTA 6, providing fans with the latest news and developments regarding the highly-anticipated sequel.
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